Saturday, May 21, 2011

"That Truth Should be Silent"-- More Reflections inspired by Tanselle's TLS review and my TLS letter published this Week

Further comments on being silenced or being allowed to speak. The disastrous consequences of Fredson Bowers’s abuses of his power as textual czar.

This is my letter which was published in the 13 May 2011 TLS, improved by the word “indeed” in the last sentence:

G. Thomas Tanselle in a discussion of “textual instability” in his review of Sukanta Chaudhuri’s The Metaphysics of Text (April 29) ends a paragraph with this caution: “We should remember that Fredson Bowers, the most prolific producer of final-authorial-intention texts, said in his edition of William James that the apparatus of variants is of ‘equal ultimate importance’ with the main text, because of the story it tells.”
This example is unfortunate, as I know from studying the manuscript of Pragmatism in the 1970s. In the early 1980s my commissioned article on “The Reviewing of Scholarly Editions” was called “distinguished” but nevertheless rejected for fear a passage on Pragmatism would displease Fredson Bowers. It was published at last, unrevised, in Editors’ Notes for Fall 1991. In that temperately worded passage I explained that Bowers was obscuring the evidence by calling “the manuscripts ‘something close to drafts,’ in so ‘rough’ a state of inscription that they cannot ‘be thought of as normal authorial printer’s copy.’” As I pointed out, “the manuscripts are not rough drafts at all, but perfectly legible fair copy, from which the first printers set very nicely. The printers made a few errors, of course, and since Bowers had relegated the manuscript to an inferior status he did not collate it carefully and did not notice misreadings which have persisted through every printed version”—compositorial misreadings such as “geometrics” for James’s “geometries.”
When Tanselle says that “the apparatus of variants is of ‘equal ultimate importance’ with the main text” of William James’s works, he is not taking account of some words in James’s manuscript which appear neither in the main text nor in the apparatus—those words which Bowers did not print because he wrongly rejected the actual printer’s copy (stint marks quite visible) as too “rough” to become his own copy-text. James’s manuscripts ought to have been copy-text for Bowers’s edition, for words in the manuscript, quite lost from Bowers’s edition, would indeed tell a story, if they had a chance to speak.

That’s the TLS letter. Elsewhere I have given accounts of being silenced and censored for two decades as I tried to tell the truth about the sloppiness of Bowers’s apparatuses and the irrationality of his editorial principles, especially in his last three decades. Any psychologist reading the TLS would not be surprised to know there was a passionate subtext in my wistful thought that words would tell a story, if they were allowed to speak.

Could Bowers be criticized? Yes, if you were Edmund Wilson, although if you were Edmund Wilson you would react aesthetically and emotionally at the sight of any editorial apparatus and rant about Bowers and other editors without really knowing where they had gone wrong. Yes, if you were John Freehafer in Studies in the Novel (Winter 1970), edited from Texas by people who had no connection to government-funded editorial projects. Yes, once, later on, when I queried David Nordloh on the draft of his essay “On Crane Now Edited” in my Spring 1978 special issue of Studies in the Novel, after that journal had become aware of textual problems but was still not vulnerable to censorship. I have the correspondence. My memory is pretty clear that I said, do you really want to go with this draft or do you want to tell the truth. My memory is that he ran a version by Bowers, who said: “It’s your nickel. You can spend it or bank it.” The upshot was that Nordloh took the risk of writing the review as printed in Studies in the Novel (Spring 1978). But I was not published in PROOF when I expected to be, not published in A&E Bulletin, when I ought to have been (and when the long MAGGIE piece was sent to Bowers intimate I asked it not be sent to), not published in REVIEW when I turned in a fine commissioned essay, not published for years in A&E Bulletin after I had sent in a letter showing that what they had published from Bowers about me was false. In the interval Tanselle quoted Fredson Bowers’s denial, so the false denial is in the official biography to this day. Irony of ironies, the first letter I received when I opened my rented San Luis Obispo mailbox in 1998 was a rejection of my formerly praised article on “The Auteur-Author Paradox”—published in Studies in the Novel but rejected from a collection where it was to appear--not by the editors of the 1970s!

As I have said, from being silenced for years at a time, even for 2 decades at a time on the article on Maggie done with Brian Higgins, at least taught me something about how real authors feel when they can’t get their words into print, can’t, as poor Stephen Crane said, see his outbring brought out. In NEW ESSAYS ON “THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE,” “Getting Used to the ‘Original Form’ of The Red Badge of Courage,” I meditated on some of the less obvious consequences of not being published:

Deprived of the reviews that books customarily receive, Crane was not in a position to move on with assurance. We know from studies of creativity, notably the work of the clinical psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg, that the creative process, like any other, begins, continues, and ends. In the case of creative writing, the process involves periods of intense arousal, preoccupation, anxiety, concentration, irritation, a variety of fantasy states, vainglory, self-doubt, and obsessiveness; then, if the writer lives long enough and persists hard enough, it ends. In the case of MAGGIE, a major aspect of the creative process was frustrated—the phase of cleaning up and stowing away—and the result for Crane was that MAGGIE did not quite get off his mind in the way a completed and published book normally does. The undistributed book was even tangibly around at least one of the cluttered flats that Crane used as what we would call crash pads. Lacking chairs, he and his friends sometimes sat on piles of MAGGIE. . . .

I can say, as a modern scholar silenced for years at a time, that you feel as if you are moving through a blurred landscape, where your sense of the products of your thought and labor are invisible to some of the people around you who ought to know all about you, although many of those you meet may know just what has been suppressed and some of them are the suppressors. You don’t feel that the different parts of your career are moving steadily forward when what the academic world sees is so spotty. It’s not a healthy state. You don’t feel whole, that’s for sure.

And there is always the possibility that if you are published others may read what you wrote and think about it and make changes in their own perceptions. Textual work in the 1980s, to be specific, might have proceeded differently if everyone knew what had been learned in the 1970s--not just by what I had not been able to publish but what had been learned in "vetting reports" of the 1970s, kept absolutely hidden from public view.

But think about real writers, not academic writers, Think what it means when ignorant editing deprives the author and the modern reader the possibility of experiencing almost all of the crucial, climactic 12th chapter of THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE? There—there you see words lost from Bowers’s text, hundreds of times as many words as he lost from PRAGMATISM.

This is all aside from the madness of the apparatuses that do not give the information that any real honorable human being could possibly want to know.

There’s more to say on this topic.

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